Summary: A bereaved father seeks vengeance for the death of his son.
Word Count: 4587
Joe Cartwright kicked his horse to a faster trot. Adam was due back today from a three week trip to Yuma and he wanted to be back at the Ponderosa in time for his oldest brother’s arrival.
Joe suddenly slowed his horse though at the sight of Jack Devon riding towards him. He couldn’t help but wonder what brought Mr. Devon out to the Ponderosa. Joe had been good friends with Devon’s son, Sam, but unfortunately two weeks prior, Sam had been killed while breaking a horse that Joe was originally going to break.
Though Sam, who’d been helping Joe break horses for the past couple of months, had offered to handle the horse, Joe had known that he was less experienced and, after the accident, Joe couldn’t help but feel responsibility and guilt for his friend’s death.
It had taken many talks from Ben to convince him otherwise, though his sense of guilt only seemed to return whenever he saw Sam’s father. They’d never written Adam about the incident, deciding that it would be best to tell him in person when he got home. He had been a good friend of Sam’s as well.
Joe now pulled his horse to a complete halt as Devon did the same, stopping his horse side by side with Joe’s. “Mr. Devon, what brings you all the way out here?” Joe asked cheerily though his smile faded at the grim expression on Devon’s face.
“Vengeance. For the death of my son.” Devon said coldly drawing his gun and firing it before Joe even had a moment to think.
The loud sound of the bullet sent his horse to a gallop as Joe slumped over in his saddle. The bullet had hit him in the right side of his chest. He did his best to hang on to Cochise while desperately trying to slow the horse down.
Suddenly, another bullet whizzed by him and he looked behind him to see Devon in hot pursuit. He quickened his horse again and he realized that his only chance was to ride his horse into a large, thick strand of trees not far ahead to his left. He was like an open target out here and at least the trees would shield him.
More bullets whizzed by as Joe finally reached the strand of trees. He pulled his horse to a sudden halt and slid off of his horse. He took cover behind a tree as Devon dismounted and did the same.
Joe checked his gun and was dismayed to see that he only had four bullets as a bullet ricocheted off of the tree he was using as a shield. He shot back though he knew it was pointless. His vision was becoming blurry and unfocused and he was very weak.
With three bullets, it was only a matter of time.
Adam Cartwright sat up in his saddle at the sound of gunshots. He was well onto Ponderosa land and he wondered who could be firing guns on Cartwright property. The gunshots seemed to be coming from a strand of trees a little ways up ahead.
Adam spurred his horse to a gallop and headed towards the trees.
Joe braced as another bullet suddenly hit off of the side of the tree spraying splinters of wood. Joe fired another shot in Devon’s direction then he laid back against the tree, his strength spent. Blood now covered the right side of his shirt and his breaths seemed shorter and more difficult to take.
Adam pulled his horse up to the strand of trees, then dismounted. He drew his gun, ready to fire if necessary. Walking very quickly and using the trees for cover, he slowly crept up upon a man whose back was to him.
“Put the gun down nice and easy, then turn around,” Adam ordered cocking his gun to show the man he wasn’t fooling around. The man slowly placed his gun on the ground and turned around to face him.
Adam was shocked to recognize Jack Devon. Devon had always been a friend of the Cartwright’s; what was he doing firing his gun on the Ponderosa? “Mr. Devon, what’s this all about?” Adam asked.
“He killed Sam. He killed my son!” Devon yelled. Adam barely had a chance for the words to register before Devon lunged at him. Fighting for control of the gun, Adam swung hard at Devon, punching him in the face and knocking him out cold. Adam could see that Devon would be out for some time.
He suddenly held out his gun defensively. The words that Devon had yelled still rung in Adam’s mind and he realized that the man who had done so was out there, hiding, somewhere. What Devon said may or may not have been true but it was up to Adam to take the man in if he could, for the sheriff to decide what to do.
Adam took cover behind a tree. Sam dead? Could it be true? He had no time to think right now, as his eyes scanned for any sort of movement ahead.
Seeing and hearing nothing, Adam inched his way forward stopping behind another tree. He couldn’t even be sure that the man he was after wasn’t using the same tree for cover that he was. Adam suddenly spun out to face the other side of the tree pointing his gun at the figure that lay up against it.
His breath caught in his throat at the site of his youngest brother. “Joe?” he whispered as he dropped to his knees next to Joe. His brother’s shirt and jacket were a bloody mess and his breaths were only short gasps.
Adam gently placed his hand on Joe’s forehead to see that he was burning up. Joe opened his eyes at Adam’s touch. “Adam?” he whispered, unsure of whether his brother was real or imagined.
“I’m here,” Adam gently reassured his brother.
Joe lifted his hand to touch Adam’s face as though to be sure. “Thank God you’re here,” he whispered as his hand fell limp against Adam and he slumped into his brother’s arms as he fell unconscious.
Using a shirt from what he had packed for his trip, Adam packed Joe’s wound in order to stop the bleeding. If he didn’t get Joe to a doctor soon, Adam knew that Joe could bleed to death.
Adam had found Devon and Joe’s horses close by and using rope Joe had been carrying on his horse, Adam helped a now partially conscious Devon onto his horse and tied his hands to the saddle.
Joe had regained consciousness and Adam as painlessly as possible helped his brother up onto Sport and mounted as well behind him, using his free hand to hold Joe against him. Joe’s face was contorted with pain and Adam could see that his brother was trying his best not to complain. The pain seemed too much to bear and Joe once again fell unconscious slumped against his brother’s arm.
Adam jumped upon his horse and took off at a fast gallop towards home. Roy had taken Devon down to the jail and the doctor had decided to immediately operate on Joe. He had told Adam that there was nothing he could do but sit and wait so Adam had decided to ride back to the Ponderosa to get their father and Hoss rather than sending someone else to do it.
Adam rode his horse at a faster speed the he ever had before and it wasn’t long before he reached home. “Pa! Hoss!” He yelled as he jumped down from Sport and ran towards the front door. Ben came rushing out with Hoss behind him.
“What’s wrong?” His father asked.
“It’s Joe,” Adam replied. “He’s been shot.
“Saddle the horses,” Ben ordered Hoss.
“Doc Martin’s operating on him now,” Adam said. “I’ll fill you in on the details on the way.”
All three Cartwright’s stood up as Doctor Paul Martin entered the room. “How is he?” Hoss was the first to ask.
“He had me worried for awhile, but he’s going to make a full recovery,” Paul answered with a smile. Relief flooded over their faces and Adam in particular breathed a sigh of relief.
He couldn’t help but remember how he had found Joe. The sight of his brother’s blood soaked shirt and jacket had caused him at first to think that Joe might be dead. He couldn’t imagine life without one of his family members and he offered up a silent prayer of thanks that everything was going to be all right.
Adam was brought out of thought when Roy Coffee came through the door. “Hi boys, Ben. How’s Joe?”
“Paul says he’s going to be fine” Ben answered.
“That’s good to hear,” Roy said. “I’ve come to tell you that I’ve got Devon locked up safe and sound but I think we’ve got another problem.”
All three Cartwrights displayed looks of question at Roy’s words. “What sort of problem Roy?” Adam voiced Hoss and his father’s thoughts.
“It seems that Devon’s other, younger son, Jimmy, has been riling up a bunch of his father’s hired hands and they’re in an ugly mood.”
“Well, what does this mean?” Ben asked.
“Jimmy and the hired hands have all collected at the Silver Dollar. I’m not sure if they’re intending to try anything but I’m becoming concerned for Joe’s safety. Jimmy or one of the hands might try to finish the job,” explained Roy.
“What do you think we should do about it, Roy?” Hoss asked.
“I’ve already deputized several men, some to guard the jail to make sure that no one helps Jack Devon to escape, and a few I’ve posted around this building to be sure that nothing happens to Joe.”
“Is there anything you want us do, Roy?” Adam asked.
“The best you three can do is go home and get some rest.”
“He’s right, Ben,” the doctor agreed before the Cartwrights had time to protest. “It’s getting late and all of you will be no good to Joe if you don’t get some rest.”
Ben finally nodded in agreement, “Thanks Paul, Roy.” He said as he and his sons headed out the door.
Hoss Cartwright paced the floor next to the fireplace. It was nearing midnight and he had been unable to sleep. He poked at the dying embers of the fireplace consumed with worry for his younger brother. The sound of footsteps on the stairs caused him to look up to see his father descending them. “Couldn’t sleep either, Pa?”
Ben shook his head. “I checked in on Adam, he’s awake too.” Ben said.
“I just can’t sleep knowing that so many men might like to bring harm to Joe when he’s only got a couple of men to guard him,” Hoss shared his concern with his father.
“I know what you mean,” Ben answered.
Though he would have liked to tell his son there was no need to worry, he couldn’t bring himself to say words that he didn’t feel, for he too was consumed with worry.
“Hey Pa, it would make me feel a whole heck of a lot better to ride into town and just stay with him for awhile. I’m not going to be able to get any sleep tonight anyway. Besides…..”
“You don’t have to go on explaining, Hoss,” Ben interrupted. He placed his hand on Hoss’s shoulder. “I think it would make all of us feel better knowing that one of us is with him.”
“Thanks, Pa,” Hoss smiled as he headed for the steps to get dressed.
Hoss pulled his horse to a halt in front of Doc Martin’s office. He dismounted and tied the reigns securely to a wooden post
A light was still on in Paul’s office so Hoss knew that the doctor was up late tonight. He knocked softly on the door but it was enough for Paul to hear and he answered it.
“Sorry to bug you at this time of night Paul but Pa and Adam and I were all worried; we just couldn’t sleep and well…. I just think we’d all feel a lot better if one of us stayed with Joe.”
“I figured you might,” Paul smiled. “And I can’t say that I blame you. Come on in.”
Hoss stepped into the office. “Thanks so much Doc.”
“I’m working on some paperwork but you’re welcome to show yourself upstairs to the last room at the end of the hall,” Paul said quietly.
“Thanks Paul,” Hoss said once again as he headed for the stairs.
He reached the top and started to turn the corner but stopped silently when his eyes caught sight of a dark shadow at the end of the hall. It was a man and he was starting to open the door of the room where Joe was. A lamp that had been left turned down low in the room sent light gleaming off of an object in the man’s hand- a gun.
Hoss pulled his gun and in a moment stood in the middle of the room. “Don’t move,” he ordered. At these words the man turned his gun on Hoss, but Hoss got off a shot first, shooting the gun out of the man’s hand.
Doc Martin and a couple of the deputies from outside rushed into the hall, arresting the man and hauling him off to jail. Deputy Clem Foster, who’d arrived only seconds before the gunfire, asked Hoss for the details of what had happened. “I’m sorry for the trouble, Hoss; when I arrived, I discovered a couple of the deputies sleeping on the job. That’s why Frank Olson got in so easily.”
“Frank Olson? Isn’t he one of Devon’s hired hands?” Hoss questioned.
“Not only was he a hired hand but he was a good friend of Jack’s,” Clem answered. “It looks like I’m going to have to search for new deputies. Another mistake like this….” Clem didn’t finish, he didn’t have too.
An ugly possibility crossed Hoss’s mind and it only took him a moment to make a decision. “You’ve got three starting in the morning, Clem.” He said.
The Cartwrights got very little sleep over the next couple of weeks as Joe slowly recovered. Adam was relieved that there were no other attacks and it seemed as though Jimmy had picked up and left leaving the ranch abandoned. Even many of the hired hands had scattered, most of them leaving Virginia City.
Jack Devon had been tried for and convicted of attempted murder from Joe’s written testimony and Adam knew that he would spend many years in prison.
Everything seemed to be returning back to normal for the Cartwrights especially when Joe was finally able to return home, though it was another week until he was finally able to do some small jobs.
Still Adam noticed that not all was back to normal as it seemed. Joe seemed a lot more nervous now, though he’d never share that fact with anyone, Adam knew.
It had been two weeks since Joe’s return when he and Adam were given the job of checking for repairs at the line shacks.
Adam finished his cup of coffee and rose to walk towards the front door. “We’ll be home before dark, Pa,” he called over his shoulder to his father as he grabbed his coat and holster and headed out the door.
Adam was actually looking forward to having some time alone with his brother. They hadn’t spent much time together since his return from Yuma and Joe seemed more distant then ever.
Adam stepped into the barn as Joe was saddling Cochise and he was taken by surprise when Joe suddenly whipped around, his gun drawn. He quickly holstered it realizing it was Adam. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “You startled me.”
Adam knew that Joe was still nervous about Jimmy. The manner in which Jack Devon had shot him had also had an effect on Joe too, Adam knew. Before the incident, Jack had shown no bitterness Joe and the attack had been completely unexpected.
Adam placed a hand on Joe’s shoulder. “I understand why you would be nervous after all that’s happened,” dam reassured his brother. At these words, Joe turned around to face his brother and Adam was unsure of whether Joe would be angry at him for voicing his fears or if he would take his words as what they were- words of understanding.
“Yeah, I guess I am a little jumpy right now,” Adam was surprised to hear Joe admit. For a moment they stood in silence, then Adam turned to saddle his horse. “Adam?” He turned back around. “Thanks,” Joe said quietly. Adam smiled in return.
Both of them knew that any distance felt between them had suddenly diminished.
It wasn’t long before Adam and Joe were checking their fifth line shack. They were getting along better then they had in a long time and Adam was relieved to see Joe finally able to laugh again. Actually though, Adam knew that it had been quite awhile since either of them had laughed.
Adam glanced up at the sun judging the time. “We’re moving pretty quick; if we keep going like we are, we might be home in time for supper.”
“Sounds good,” Joe said as he prepared to mount his horse then stopped suddenly when he felt a gun being pointed at his back.
“Don’t move,” a voice commanded. Joe felt his gun being pulled from his holster.
Adam slowly reached for his gun. “I wouldn’t try anything,” a voice said from behind him. “Drop it.” Adam did as he was told then turned around to see Jimmy Devon and a couple of his hands. Adam counted four of them in all including Jimmy and the hand that had his gun pointed at Joe.
“Williams, Foster, both of you keep an eye on him,” Jimmy ordered a couple of the men, nodding towards Adam, as he took a step towards the object of all his hatred for the last couple of months– Joe Cartwright. “You thought I was gone for good, didn’t ya Cartwright. You’re the reason my brother’s dead and now you’re the reason my father’s in jail and I’ll never be able to move on until I see you dead.” Jimmy sneered as he rammed his fist into Joe’s stomach sending him to the ground.
Joe began to pull himself up when he suddenly heard the sound of a gun cocking and he looked up to stare into the barrel of a shotgun. Joe glanced at Adam and there gazes locked. They both knew that if they wanted to survive, they were going to have to do something quick.
Jimmy’s cold, harsh voice broke the moment of silence. “First I’m gonna kill you Cartwright, then I’m gonna kill your brother.” Joe was still looking into his brother’s eyes and the slight nod he gave him was all the signal that Adam needed as both brothers suddenly jumped into action.
Joe lunged at Jimmy, fighting for control of the gun. It suddenly went off and Jimmy watched with shock as his own man fell, accidentally shot by the bullet. A moment of hesitation was all that Joe needed to grab for his gun now lying on the ground and he pointed it at Jimmy. “Don’t move,” he ordered.
Adam had lunged at Williams and one punch had knocked him cold; he now fought Foster. Joe took his aim off of Jimmy for a moment to shoot his gun in the air. Foster froze allowing Adam to grab his gun that he’d dropped only minutes before. He aimed it at Foster.
“You can’t win, Cartwright,” Jimmy sneered. “I have several more men that’ll be here any minute and they want to see you dead almost as bad as I do.” Joe took his gaze off of Jimmy to look at Adam and he was taken by surprise when Jimmy lunged at him.
His cold, steely, eyes locked with Joe’s as they fought for the gun. “I told you I’d see you dead, Cartwright,” he spat. A loud bang emanated in Joe’s ears as the gun went off and he watched as Jimmy slumped over onto to the ground dead. He’d pulled the trigger believing the gun was pointed towards Joe.
Foster too had thought he could surprise Adam and lunged at him, but Adam was ready and a couple of punches sent Foster to the ground unconscious. The sound of the gun going off had caused Adam to whip around in fear but he was relieved to see that his younger brother was okay.
Adam stumbled over to where Joe sat, exhausted, on the ground. Neither of them said anything for a moment. Adam was startled when Joe suddenly stood up. “Wait, do you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Adam asked but he didn’t need a reply as the sound of horses not far off reached his ears.
The surrounding trees blocked any view they might have of who was coming but they both knew who it had to be- the rest of Devon’s men. There was no telling how many there might be, they might not be able to hold up at the line shack for long.
“We have to get back to the house,” Joe said suddenly, voicing his older brother’s exact thoughts. Both brothers looked at each other once more as though afraid that it was to be their last moment and Adam suddenly realized it just might be.
“We’ll make it,” Joe said in barely more then a whisper. The sound of the horses was louder now as they leapt up onto their own horses and kicked them to a very fast gallop.
“We’ll make it,” Adam whispered his brother’s words back to himself; he prayed silently that they would.
Just minutes after Adam and Joe had left, Devon’s men rode up to the line shack. Jimmy Devon was dead now, they saw, and James Ross, Jimmy’s right hand man burned with more anger then ever.
“Williams and Foster are still alive, Ross,” one of the hands informed him.
“Williams and Foster failed Devon; we have no more use for them now. Shoot them.” Ross ordered coldly. “Then let’s ride out; if we hurry, it won’t be long until we catch up to them.”
Adam could see that their horses were now going at a considerably slower pace then before. His brother, he could see, was also having a more difficult time staying on his horse. Though Joe was well on the road to recovery from the shooting, he still didn’t have his complete strength back and with all of the ordeals they’d been through today it was understandable that Joe had lost a considerable amount of strength.
Adam looked behind them and although he couldn’t make out how many were behind them, he did however know that there were several by the large cloud of dust the riders behind them kicked up.
“We aren’t going to make it Joe,” Adam yelled to be heard over the horses.
“I was just thinking the same thing,” Joe yelled back. “There’s an abandoned shack not far from here, we can try and hold up there.”
Adam didn’t reply. He was to busy thinking of how his father might react if he found out that not one but two of his sons were dead.
It was an ugly thought, and he quickly pushed it back out of his mind.
Adam was glad to finally reach the abandoned shack. He jumped down off of his horse and helped Joe dismount. Luckily Adam had some extra bullets with him, but he knew they wouldn’t last him long.
Adam and Joe each covered a window at the front of the house. Now all they could do was sit and wait.
Hoss, Ben, and Roy quickened their horses to a gallop. Roy had stopped by the house some time before to inform Ben and Hoss that Jimmy Devon was believed to be in the area and he had several men with him. Ben and Hoss became very worried for both Joe and Adam’s safety and so they’d decided, along with Roy, to make sure that Adam and Joe were all right.
It soon became very apparent to the three of them that everything was not all right when they finally came upon one of the line shacks with four bodies, including that of Jimmy Devon. There were many horse tracks leading away from the shack. Adam and Joe were no where in sight.
They decided to follow the tracks and soon they were riding at a quick pace. Ben prayed silently for the safety of his sons.
Adam ducked as a bullet ricocheted off of the windowsill that he was covering. They’d managed to keep Devon’s men pushed back for a little awhile now, but they needed help and Adam didn’t see any hope of that coming any time soon.
Joe glanced over at his brother and guessed what he must be thinking. It was the two of them against five of Devon’s men; the odds were definitely against them.
Joe was brought back out of thought at the sight of movement under the door of the adjoining bedroom of the shack. Joe had been worried that Devon’s men might try to sneak in through the bedroom, the one area they were unable to cover.
He glanced over at Adam, whose full attention was on the men firing at them from outside, and Joe realized that alerting his brother Adam was impossible and not the best thing to do in this case. He cocked his gun and pointed it towards the door as Devon’s man slowly opened it. Joe kept himself at an angle where he couldn’t be seen easily.
The man suddenly stepped out of the room, his gun aimed at Adam.
A sound behind him caused Adam to whip around. He froze at the site of a gun pointed in his direction. The sound of a gunshot suddenly emanated through the room. He was surprised to feel no pain, but rather to see the other man slump to the floor. That’s when he looked at Joe and realized his brother had just saved his life.
Both Adam and Joe’s attentions were suddenly drawn back to the windows as Ben, Hoss, and Roy took the rest of Devon’s men by surprise.
Adam walked over to his brother’s side and helped him up. Then he placed his hand on Joe’s shoulder. “Thanks Joe,” he said softly.
“For what?” Joe replied, “You don’t have anything to thank me for, we got through this together. Hey, didn’t I say we’d make it?” Joe asked smiling, though Adam could see that his brother’s eyes were moist with tears.
“I seem to recall you saying something like that,” Adam answered, his face displaying the same emotion. “Let’s go home,” he said.
“Home never sounded better,” Joe replied as Adam gently placed Joe’s arm around his shoulder.
And for the first time in months, both brothers finally realized that everything was going to be all right.